Monday, November 19, 2007

Seal stomachs VI: Seal kill

This set of posts starts here

Back into the pack ice, and another day of searching. Tore and I were on the bridge together, so I grabbed the opportunity to quiz him about the project.

“So Tore, aren't you worried about being further south than you'd intended?”

“No, I think we'll find seals here”.

“But – don't you want to get seals from the same area each year?”.

“Not really – they move north after pupping, so next year we'll be working further north anyway”.

I was getting to one of my bigger concerns.

“Hmm. Now, this project – you're looking at seasonal variation in seal diet. And you're taking them in late winter this year, summer last year, and late autumn next year, yeah?”

“Yes.”, said Tore, looking at me.

“So your data'll be temporally confounded.”.

Tore just looked at me.

“Okay,”, I said, “You get samples in winter one year, summer another, autumn another – how do you know that any differences you find will be due to the seasons, and not because something's varied between the years?”.

“But that's not a real problem.”

“How do you know? How can you tell, from this design?”

Tore just looked at me a little more, shook his head, resumed scanning for seals.

The first animal, late in the evening - we'd moved south far enough to experience a noticeable difference in time of sunset – was another grise. She was followed by three adults in quick succession, then another two youngsters. By then, it was after seven, too dark for Kjell and Bjørn to continue shooting. And it seemed that Tore had found himself a patch of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of seals.

The next morning, and I was back on the bridge, watching. Only by now, when I'd see a young seal, I'd say nothing. I wouldn't even keep my binoculars on it, in case I alerted anyone else to its presence. We'd killed nineteen animals - all hooded seals - but only a third of them had been definitely mature. At the rate we were going, the only thing that Tore would have was information on what immature hooded seals ate. I had enough problems with the whole expedition without adding an extra layer of uselessness to it.

I also had trouble with the idea that if I observed an animal, I was condemning it to death. It rather took the thrill out of observation. So I stayed on the bridge for a while, kept looking, ignoring the seals I saw. The haphazard nature of Tore's watch system paid off for the seals – I'd got my eye in, and noticed a few before the call came – someone else had seen one.

At least the ice was always beautiful. Once I saw a gyrfalcon, the pure white falcon of the Arctic. It watched us, haughty, from meagre vantages of floes, then soared away.

But I didn't see much ice for the next three days. One dead seal followed another for two days - 26, then 30 each day. By the end of both days, I needed Jan Mayen's spotlights to see what I was doing on deck.

A telling incident amid the splatter. The corpse of another pregnant female hooded seal disgorged a live pup, bleating across the deck. The crewman who'd killed the last pup clubbed this one too. Lotta was off delivering seal body parts to Tore, and so didn't see it. After he'd clubbed the pup, I looked at the crewman, shook my head, said “Et lieveling.”, just as he had before. He looked down at me, snorted, walked off. As I thought. Nothing like showing off a soft side – whether it's there or not - to impress a possibly-available woman.

And then our big day – three seals in the morning, 44 in the afternoon. The day I crushed the wounded female's skull with the sledgehammer. By evening, a dozen seals were still lined up under the glare of the deck spots for me to dissect. Kjell came to help with the dissections – it was too dark to shoot. He could skin a seal in half the time it took me.

All around me there was jubilation. Kjell and I were still working, slicing and hacking at the seal carcasses, Lotta disposing of pieces into plastic bags as needed. Tore decided it was time to celebrate, cracked open beers for everyone. Only I refused. The deck was slippery, my knife was – as always – razor sharp, and a mistake amid the bacterial soup of the dead seals didn't bear thinking about. Too dangerous for my liking.

Besides, I saw nothing to celebrate.

Once the last carcass skinned and eviscerated, chunks of gut safely stored in their plastic bags, I wiped my hands, cracked open a can of beer. After four days spent mostly bent over, manhandling, lugging over a hundred lumps of flesh weighing up to five hundred pounds, my back was beginning to ache. I'd had enough of the gore.

Next morning, when it looked like another day of killing, I had Julie find me some painkillers, spent the day reading. As it happened, only five animals were shot that day. We'd left the huge group of seals, and were heading for home. Tore was satisfied.

Continued here

1 comment:

Miriam Godet said...



Perpétua é a glória do Eterno! Possa Ele sempre se alegrar com o que criou. (Salmos 104:31)


Senhor do Universo, que seja o meu sustento amargo, mas provido por Tuas mãos e não doce como o mel, provido por mãos humanas. (Talmud, Eruvin 18b)


É Ele quem fornece alimento a todos os seres vivos, porque eterna é Tua misericórdia. (Salmos 136:25)


Então cantarão de júbilo todas as árvores da floresta diante do Eterno, porque Ele vem julgar a terra (I Crônicas 16:33)